What’s in an Archive? Deciding Where Your Historical Materials Will Live

Many home archivists and community-based researchers face a tough set of questions when deciding where their personal or organizational collections will live longer term. Not everyone is able to or wants to be responsible for the long-term care of archival materials, but many still wonder, “Who can I trust to be the steward of my important historical records?”

The answer is different for everyone, depending on what you are looking for in an archival steward. Stories from our Archival Seedlings program may offer insights and inform the questions you might want to ask to help guide your decision.

Since January, our Community-Driven Archives Team (CDAT) has been working with a group of ten researchers and budding archivists connected to our four community partners. We are supporting each researcher to learn new skills in working with historical resources. The skills they learn range from conducting oral histories to creating digital archives, and each researcher is developing a project of their choosing. Together, these researchers and their projects are the focus of a new initiative, the Archival Seedlings program. Participants in the program are known as “Seedlings.”

One Seedling, D.L., based in San Antonio, TX, is starting an archival collection on the life of Prudence Curry, the first director of the George Washington Carver Branch Library in San Antonio, the city’s Black library during Jim Crow. D.L. currently serves as the manager of Carver Library. Though Curry was a pathbreaking African American leader, very little has been formally documented about her life. Most of the stories about Prudence Curry live on in the memories of people in her community.

D.L. wants to make sure that Curry’s legacy will live on beyond individual memories through building an archival collection to benefit her wider community. He wants this collection to strengthen the preservation of Black history in San Antonio.

Library room with book shelves and tables and chairs with seated patrons and staff at the front
Inside the George Washington Carver Branch Library, ca. 1930.

Luckily, D.L. is a member and researcher with the San Antonio African American Archive and Museum (SAAACAM), an independent community archive that has spent the past few years building up a staff and volunteer base in order to collect, preserve, and interpret San Antonio’s African American history. D.L. plans to send the beginnings of the Prudence Curry collection to SAAACAM, which he feels will be its perfect home.

Group of SAAACAM leaders with SHC staff members on their visit to San Antonio, TX.

But what if you don’t live somewhere with an independent community archive that is the perfect fit for your project?

Maybe you have decided that you want to preserve treasured historical materials for future generations, but also want to keep those collections in your community. How should you decide whom to reach out to?

This is a question that some Seedlings program participants have asked themselves. It is also an important question in community-driven archives work; a central tenet of our approach lies in acknowledging that, for history keepers, sending collections to an academic archive, museum, or institution like UNC is only one option among many.

Another Seedling, Sylvia, based in Greensboro, NC, is creating an archival collection centered on local African American history during the Civil Rights era sit-in movement of the 1960’s. Specifically, she is conducting oral history interviews with a group of her former classmates and teachers at Dudley High School and North Carolina A&T State University who hold these stories in their memories.

Rather than donate her oral history collection to an institution that has been historically disconnected from her community, Sylvia has decided to pursue a partnership with a local Black-led community organization. She has decided that her collection will best live on under the care of an organization that has long been working directly for the betterment of her community.

When making a decision about where to preserve your cherished historic materials, considering asking yourself:

  • What are my long-term preservation goals?
  • How do they fit with the long-term interest and capacity of this potential partner?
  • How long will this potential partner be able to retain the materials?
  • How does this potential partner’s goals, values, and attitudes fit with my own and/or those of my community?
  • How will community members be able to access collections materials in the future through this potential partner?

Then, consider how the answers to these questions affect your decision about where and with whom to partner. Remember, it is your and your community’s choice to decide on the best steward for your historical records.

Check out the short videos on the Resources page of our website to learn more about working with institutional and community-based archives to meet your needs.

For more about community-based archives on the Southern Sources blog:

Partnering with The San Antonio African American Community Archives and Museum (SAAACAM)

The Community-Driven Archives Project at UNC-Chapel Hill is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Follow us on Twitter @SoHistColl_1930 #CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC

Transforming Knowledge, Transforming Libraries Reportback

On May 1, the University of California-Irvine Libraries hosted a unique conference on Community-Driven Archives (via Vimeo): Transforming Knowledge, Transforming Libraries. This virtual summit featured a group of professional leaders in the field. Most of them, like us with the SHC’s Community-Driven Archives Team (CDAT), work with community groups as institutional collaborators within an academic archive.

What were some of our highlights?

Transforming Knowledge

Archivist Nancy Godoy presented on Arizona State University’s Community-Driven Archives Mellon Grant project (2017-20), which scaled up an initiative that she had led since 2012. The ASU Library’s project has focused primarily on collaborations with Latinx, LGBTQ, and BIPOC communities to support historically underrepresented groups of people in deepening their sense of ownership over their collective histories. It collaborates with participants to help them learn how to preserve and share their stories and archives with their community.

For the SHC’s Community-Driven Archives Team, one of the core tenets of our community-driven archives model is an ethos of community control. This requires us as archives professionals and institutional collaborators to release any need for control over how our community partners choose to organize and interpret their own histories. It means thinking about what our community partners need before considering institutional pressures and community outsiders’ research interests.

Under Godoy’s leadership, ASU’s Community-Driven Archives (CDA) initiative does this. For example, the CDA project has chosen to move all community-focused events off-campus, because, otherwise, “it wasn’t welcoming for the community.” Instead, Godoy and her colleagues host these bilingual Spanish-English events at local community centers, POC-owned bookstores, and public libraries. Participants in ASU’s community archives and preservation workshops come to work on their own collections or those of fellow community members, utilizing archival tools resourced through grant funds with ASU staff support.

A Powerpoint slide featuring photos of Black and Latinx community members reviewing archival materials
Nancy Godoy presenting on ASU’s Community-Driven Archives Project.

In Godoy’s words, her goal for this work is to create intergenerational spaces of healing for individuals, “driven by justice and a deep love for their themselves and their communities, to learn and transform archival knowledge as they dismantle the power structures that have dehumanized them.”

Transforming Libraries

Shift Design Director of Equity Initiatives, Bergis Jules, presented on the Architecting Sustainable Futures gathering that he helped to organize and host in New Orleans in 2018. This gathering convened a cross-section of people working with community archives: leaders of community-based archives, archives professionals, and current and potential funders. Together, they brainstormed ideas for sustainable funding models to support communities in collecting, preserving, and sharing their own histories with support from outside institutions.

Jules presented from the report on the gathering, focusing on the report’s recommendations for university library partners of community-based archives, including us with the CDAT at UNC.

Bergis Jules presenting on the Architecting Sustainable Futures report (pictured).

The recommendations are straightforward and give those of us working in university library archives much to consider:

  • Don’t be extractive, which asks universities to acknowledge the power and privilege they hold while in collaboration with community-based archives and to ensure that community partners benefit first and foremost from collaboration.
  • Practice equity, which requires that archives professionals honor the wisdom of community archivists and treat them as they would their peers in the field, with regard to working relationships and fair compensation.
  • Be transparent, which means providing clear information about goals, resources, timeline, and deliverables during joint project planning as well as grant applications and grant management.
  • Honor the wisdom of the community, which asks institutional partners to recognize that community history keepers may have their own ways of preserving their histories that have been working for them, and that we have much to learn through any partnership.

Similarly, Michelle Caswell, Assistant Professor of Archival Studies and Director of the Community Archives Lab at UCLA, spoke on her approach to teaching community archives as part of an MLIS program. Caswell shared an overview of her current course on community archives, which uses a justice-based archival framework that draws participants in as co-creators of “politically generative,” transformative spaces.

Caswell underscored the task facing those of us working within academic institutions in support of community archives: We have a responsibility to pass on traditional archival methods so that our students can learn existing practices and get a job, while simultaneously calling those practices into question and demanding innovation. Caswell calls this “Critical Archival Pedagogy.”

Powerpoint slide featuring a cyclical model for the three stages of Critical Archival Pedagogy: "Critique oppressive practices, Imagine liberatory practices, and Enact practices"
Michelle Caswell presenting on her model for Critical Archival Pedagogy.

We with the CDAT are incorporating these reflections into our ongoing work to strengthen relationships with our community partners, the diversity of users of SHC collections, and MLIS students hungry to learn more about justice-based approaches to archives. We also hope that our fellow libraries and archives professionals will join us in making the time to learn more about these lessons and taking them to heart.

The Community-Driven Archives Project at UNC-Chapel Hill is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Follow us on Twitter @SoHistColl_1930

#CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC

Why are Oral Histories Important for Community-Driven Archives?

According to the former Oral Historian and Project Documentarian for the Community-Driven Archives Team (CDAT), Bernetiae Reed,

“There is so much that you can’t capture with a book, but [rather] with an oral history.”

From the beginning, the Community-Driven Archives Team has prioritized oral history training and the collection of oral histories as a key part of our work. Why?

For one, we know that preserving written and print records alone limits whose histories get told and shared. Passing down written family records from generation to generation is often based on access to time and resources: the ability to create the record and the space and living conditions necessary to preserve it. Second, reliance on the written word is based on a dominant cultural value (read: white, Western), rather than one shared by all families, communities, and peoples.

In addition, for historians, archivists, researchers, historic interpreters, artists, and curators, oral histories literally have a voice of their own, which can helpfully guide our storytelling. When someone shares their story through an oral tradition, we hear their interpretation of their life in their own voice and words. Public Historian Michael Frisch talks about the collection of oral history interviews in terms of “shared authority,” the idea that archivists and historians collect stories in negotiation with those willing to share them. As oral history interviewers, we learn what community members want to share with us.

Alabama-based documentary filmmaker Theo Moore reminds us that the most important part of telling a story is first listening carefully to what others who lived it are saying. Oral histories can be a guidepost for storytelling, anchoring us in community voices rather than our own narrative. For many researchers and documentarians, collecting oral history interviews is a starting point for new research, given the gaps and silences in many archives when it comes to the histories of marginalized communities.

According to Bernetiae, oral histories help lend “an accurate voice” to a story. During her time as on staff at the Wilson Special Collections Library, Bernetiae edited oral histories for use in a number of exhibits, as well as for websites and digital storytelling. In March, the CDAT said a fond farewell (for now) to our friend and colleague, who left our grant team to continue to pursue her passions as an oral historian and documentarian of the US South.

Bernetiae Reed

During her time with the CDAT and the Southern Historical Collection (SHC), Bernetiae collected dozens of oral histories with our project partners in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Florida. She remembers a road trip with women leaders of the Appalachian Student Health Coalition (ASHC), a group of Vanderbilt University medical and nursing students and rural community leaders who self-organized in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s to deliver needed medical care to Appalachia. Bernetiae sat in the backseat and filmed their reminiscences of their days traveling through the mountains to provide care.

Listen to Bernetiae talk about why oral histories have been so important to our Community-Driven Archives project:

Bernetiae leans over a group of seated African American women to assist them during a training
Bernetiae Reed leading an oral history training in San Antonio, TX, November 2017

She remembers the spiral staircase in the home of famed Greensboro, NC Civil Rights movement lawyer J. Kenneth Lee during her and SHC Curator Biff Hollingsworth’s interview with him, one of the few recorded interviews that he agreed to before he passed in 2018. Lee represented the majority of 1,700 court cases with defendants who participated in civil disobedience as part of the sit-in movement.

Bernetiae herself has played key role in documenting Black history in the US South and beyond. She grew up in Greensboro, where her mother was the founder of the Mattye Reed African Heritage Collection, named in her honor, at North Carolina A&T State University. Starting out researching her own genealogy, Bernetiae went on to publish a book about some of her ancestors and their ties to the family of enslaver and former US President, Thomas Jefferson.

Listen to Bernetiae talk about how she got her start as an oral historian and genealogist:

Bernetiae has donated collections from her family archives as well as her research to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, and also here at the Southern Historical Collection at Wilson Special Collections Library.

A smiling Bernetiae Reed as part of a crowd of primarily African Americans at the opening of the museum, among a series of related photos on the front page of the Washington Post newspaper
Bernetiae Reed (photo at bottom left, pictured center left) as part of the crowd at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, September 2016

We miss you, Bernetiae!

Check out Bernetiae’s webinar recording on conducting oral histories to learn about her perspective on best practices:

For more about oral histories on the Southern Sources blog:

Oral History Resources

The Community-Drive Archives Project at UNC-Chapel Hill is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Follow us on Twitter @SoHistColl_1930
#CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC

Using Records about Slavery in the Southern Historical Collection: A Tutorial

This post follows up on the status of the project, Untangling the Roots: Surfacing the Lived Experience of Enslaved People in the Archives. Lydia Neuroth is a graduate student in the School of Information and Library Science and a 2018-2020 Carolina Academic Library Associate (CALA) for the Southern Historical Collection and Archival Technical Services.  

In the last year of my position in the Southern Historical Collection, we built an online tutorial with three major components: the Southern Historical Collection’s origin story, links to some of the more popular items and collections about slavery, and a step by step research methodology for beginners.   

In January 2019wrote about a new project in the SHC designed to investigate barriers to accessing our records about slavery. Back in early 2019, we had just begun to define our audiencenovice researchers, principally undergraduate students, but also community members seeking documents to research their family history. We spent our first year conducting an environmental scan to better understand how other institutions provided access through digital databases and research portals. This exercise was useful, but ultimately, it was our meetings with research librarians and archivists here at Wilson Library that helped us to see that we needed a different type of tool, one that built confidence in users to effectively utilize these collections for their research 

screenshot of shc intro page of tutorial
The second page of our tutorial explains how the SHC was created to preserve the legacy of white elite families of the American South. This legacy continues to impact researching people of color.
graphic representing research process
Our five-step research process follows an intuitive “high to low” formula demonstrating how the nature of research becomes more granular as one moves through the archival process.

 When we completed the tutorial in the Summer of 2019, we made plans to solicit feedback from one of the tutorial’s target audiences, undergraduate students. We built a 12-question survey using Qualtrics and during the last two weeks of October, we visited five different undergraduate classes that were listed as a part of UNC’s new learning initiative Reckoning: Race, Memory and Reimagining the Public University We thought these students would have a particular interest in our tutorial because learning about legacies of racism were embedded in their curriculum. In total, we probably spoke in front of about 175 students. As incentive, we offered $40 Amazon gift cards to a random selection of students who completed our survey and agreed to a follow up in person interview.   

Survey results in the form of colored bar graph
Our survey results revealed that students found many of the tutorial pages useful, in particular, the info page about the history of the SHC, and the pages that listed suggested collections for research.

Results from both the survey and the interview indicated a consistent level of confusion about the nature of primary sources and how UNC Libraries, Wilson Special Collections Library, and the Southern Historical Collection come together to make them accessible.  This was not surprising to us – several members of the R&IS team have shared that students struggle to make sense of primary sources. This speaks to larger issues about how our databases, collection guides, buildings, and general messaging can inhibit access in our Libraries. I hope we will continue to innovate in this area. 

From Spring 2019 to Spring 2020, we shared this project at several conferencesWe also developed a series of in-person supplementary workshops designed to introduce audiences to the tutorial and use the research proofs (research journeys utilizing sample research questions and SHC materials) to work through primary source materials as a group.  

I submitted this poster proposal for the National Council for Public History Annual Meeting held in Atlanta, Georgia in March 2020. It was accepted, however due to the global health pandemic was cancelled and many sessions were moved online.

As this project evolved from a focus on our materials to a focus on our audiences, we had to grapple with how the structures that define our profession can function as walls that keep people out. Examples include the components of a finding aid (abstract, series, etc.), and the workflows (processing, appraisal, etc.) that archivists utilize every day. The nature of records about slavery add another layer of historical erasure that is replicated in the archive, and we (along with others across the Libraries) felt the need to address this in the discussion of the Southern Historical Collection’s founding. I am proud of the way we engaged our Wilson Library peers, local genealogists, and UNC students in these critical conversations. The archives possess even more power when they are opened to broader audiences. That, for me, is the beauty of the archives: old records are interpreted with fresh eyes resulting in untold stories. I’m grateful that this project has allowed us to contribute to that tapestry. 

Collection’s Correspondence Unearths Valuable Information about Early 20th Century Apache Students

The Stephen Beauregard Weeks Papers, 1746-1941 (collection #00762) is composed of correspondence, diaries, notebooks/logs, and other volumes related primarily to the history of southern education and religion. Documents cover a wide array of subjects, such as southern Quakers and slavery, the Methodist church in North Carolina and the South, 18th century Moravians in North Carolina, and the formation of the Southern Historical Association.

The collection’s creator, Stephen B. Weeks (1865-1918), was a white North Carolina educator and historian who at the beginning of the 20th century also worked as the superintendent of the San Carlos Boarding School for Apache Indians in Arizona. Coverage of his time and role there largely consists of correspondence between 1899 and 1907. These letters illuminate valuable biographical information about Apache students and their families, as well as provide contextual insight into the nature of other Native American boarding schools at the time.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, an agency of the Department of the Interior, first initiated their paternalistic campaign for assimilation-through-education in the 1870s. Boarding schools operated both on and off reservations, but each generally shaped its policies and practices from Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School’s (1879-1918) model. This institution’s guiding slogan was “To civilize the Indian, get him into civilization. To keep him civilized, let him stay” (Native Heritage Project, 2012). Government agents and educators believed it to be in the best interest of Indigenous peoples to “advance” through Americanization, and from this understanding developed an oppressive educational system which forcibly removed them from their families—sometimes as young as five-years-old. These schools then sought to strip Indigenous students of their native identities and culture. A framework as such did not tolerate students’ remnant adherence to Indigenous language, religion, and/or other customs. Failure to comply was often severely punished in the form of physical and emotional abuse. Beatings, labor, confinement, as well as sexual abuse, malnutrition, and disease were common experiences among students.

Below are two photos courtesy of the Cumberland County Historical Society. They capture Carlisle’s mission to replace Indigenous culture and their precedential setting for successive boarding schools with parallel ideologies. Visit the Cumberland Historical Society’s digital collection of more than 3,000 related images for larger views.

Of particular note regarding the series of letters uncovered from the Southern Historical Society’s collection is evidence of an imposed coding system used to identify students. These tag bands, as they were called, were placeholders in the forced transition from Apache to English names. They appear throughout Stephen B. Weeks’ correspondence in various combinations of letters and numbers, such as TE 18, SB 55, and CJ 18 (see Box 17). Government agents instigated this tag band system first by dividing the Apache population into bands—each allocated with a corresponding letter—and from there assigned individuals (married men first) an identifying number.

Seen in this 1903 letter from an agent of the U.S. Indian Service to Stephen B. Weeks is introduction of a new Apache student and her family. Her grandfather is referred to by tag band CJ 28 and her father by English name David Norton. The agent suggests the student be assigned the name of Tina Norton, illuminating the name replacement practices common among such boarding schools.
Another instance of referral to Apache students by their tag band, in this case TA 36.

It’s important to note that this arbitrary system not only undermined Indigenous practices, autonomy, and decision-making, but also inflicted profound emotional harm on students and other Apaches subjected to it.

Keith H. Basso (1940-2013), a notable linguistic anthropologist, focused his research on the Apache people and has many publications which discuss these findings. In his collection of essays Western Apache Language and Culture (1992), Basso frames language as “everywhere a symbolic form without parallel or peer” and posits that “the activity of speaking—of enacting and implementing language—is surely among the most-meaning filled of all” (p. xii). Language is core to one’s identity, both individually and collectively as a people. To remove and replace it with something foreign is to severely deconstruct the person.

Photo courtesy of Goodreads.

Basso goes on to explain that central to Apache language in particular is its significance of placenames—a value transferrable to the significance of more generalized proper nouns. Apaches intimately relate to their environmental landscape, geographic locations often holding noteworthy power in the exchange of stories and resulting sociocultural understandings about the world. These placenames facilitate tribal morality and standards of social interaction. Basso elaborates, “the character of these meanings—their steadier themes, their recurrent tonalities, and, above all, their conventionalized modes of expression—will bear the stamp of a common cast of mind. Constructions of reality that reflect conceptions of reality itself, the meanings of landscapes and acts of speech are personalized manifestations of a shared perspective on the human condition” (p. 140).

From this groundwork, Basso extrapolates that Apache placenames set precedent for the weight of other proper nouns, such as individuals’ names. Outsiders’ neglect of this Apache reality is rooted in an uninformed and over-simplified “view of language in which proper names are assumed to have meaning solely in their capacity to refer […] as agents of reference” (p. 143). Apache students with tag bands and, later, English names were primed for total loss of their native heritage with the initial loss of their native names.
Powerful insight from an Apache woman, known as Mrs. Annie Peaches and who was Basso’s first Apache teacher in 1959, further conveys this tragedy. She observes that “If we lose our language, we lose our breath. Then we will die and blow away like leaves” (p. xiii-xiv).

This collection’s listings of tag band identifiers, as well as Apache students’ English names, provide exciting new pathways into genealogical research and promote discussion about the detrimental effects of deracination practices imposed on Indigenous peoples nationwide. Note that findings listed from Box 17 (see above) may not be a comprehensive account, so we invite you to look through other boxes in the series for even more information on early 20th century Apache students at the San Carlos Boarding School. You can access the Finding Aid for the Stephen Beauregard Weeks Papers, 1746-1941 through this link https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/00762/ or visit the Research Room at Wilson Special Collections Library for in-person access to its abundant correspondence.

Additionally, listed below are several links to related collections from the National Archives and Records Administration which provide avenues to supplementary research, as well as resources for more contextual information about the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ boarding schools and Kevin H. Basso’s book on the Apache language. Finally, linked at the bottom is information about a Minneapolis based nonprofit working to collect and connect digitally dispersed Native American boarding school records. Please check out their website below for more information about how to help with this initiative.

Resources/references:

Last Chance to Explore On the Move: Stories of African American Migration and Mobility

On display at Wilson Special Collections Library since September, one powerful exhibit is nearing the end of its inspired look at the 400+ year history of the African American narrative and accompanying insight into ongoing implications for racial reconciliation today. On the Move: Stories of African American Migration and Mobility showcases personal accounts of several people across time in connection to various modes of transportation and, through this lens, invites patrons to examine the African American experience with physical and social mobility in the United States. Stories include those of enslaved Africans transported to the Americas by ship and escaping plantations on foot, African Americans migrating by train to new lives after the Civil War, traveling by car during the Jim Crow Era, and fighting for equality at Flight Schools and through Freedom Rides on the bus in the 1960s.

A segregated bus station in Durham, North Carolina, 1940

One of the exhibit’s highlighted narratives from the time of the Transatlantic Slave Trade is of special interest because his materials, like the exhibit itself, will soon be out of public circulation for a while. Omar Ibn Sa’id was an educated Muslim captured in 1807 from what today is Senegal. He was brought first to Charleston, South Carolina, but after an escape and later recapture in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was sold to plantation owner General James Owen in Wilmington. It was there he spent the rest of his life.

Portrait of Omar Ibn Sa’id with biographical annotations

Ibn Sa’id’s legacy is perpetuated today among scholars fascinated by his story. He’s merited the role as an impactful topic of discourse for thinkers belonging to a wide range of disciplines. Exhibit curator Chaitra Powell, African American Collections and Outreach Archivist at Wilson Special Collections Library, attributes the reason for Ibn Sa’id’s popularity to his influence in challenging “perceptions of the intellectual history of Black people, educational and language traditions in Africa, the role of religion, and the lived experience of an enslaved person in the United States” (Display Case 2). Ibn Sa’id’s influence is recorded predominantly by way of his writings, including his autobiography published in 1831. As many were scribed in the Arabic language, they further lend support to the debunking of commonly held misconceptions about African people.

Of particular interest to me about his story in relation to the exhibit’s theme, which looks at the (sometimes forcible) transfer and movement of ideas, culture, and people, is Omar Ibn Sa’id’s supposed conversion to Christianity. Records place him as a regular attendee of a Presbyterian Church in Wilmington and confirm that he’d professed having converted. There exist, however, many different interpretations of the motivations behind this decision. Some suggest it was a matter of survival, while others propose he assigned little weight to religious affiliation—perhaps because he interacted with Islam and Christianity on the basis of their vast similarities (rather than focusing on their differences) or because the label itself was inconsequential to his faith in God.

Surat al-Nasr, a verse from the Quran Ibn Sa’id scribed in Arabic, 1857. At the time of this writing, he was attending a Presbyterian Church and professing a conversion to Christianity.

The historical ambiguity of Omar Ibn Sa’id’s conversion creates space to address these uncertainties and ask questions. My own interpretation is that he approached this shift in religious affiliation as something independent of his worldview, a philosophy which strikes me as a powerful model relevant to our current climate of us-vs-them dispositions. It lends value to recognizing our shared humanity amidst a culture hyper-focused on differentiation. While the specificity of identity certainly matters, and labels can serve to communicate important truths about a person, they risk operating as tools for segregation when prioritized above commonalities between us. I believe Ibn Sa’id embraced this understanding in his forced encounter with a new culture, exhibiting strength of mind and character, goodness of heart, and self-autonomy while in bondage. In doing so, he rose above his captors.

This inspired story is but one of many featured throughout the exhibit, so we encourage you to visit On the Move: Stories of African American Migration and Mobility to explore, interpret, and learn even more! Its last day on display at Wilson Special Collections Library is Sunday, February 9th. Follow this link for more information: https://library.unc.edu/2019/09/on-the-move/.

Announcing the Availability of Newly Digitized Audio from the Howard N. Lee Papers

May of 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Howard Lee’s election as the first African American mayor of Chapel Hill. In commemoration of this historic event and in recognition of Lee‘s political legacy, we have digitized and made accessible a selection of audio content from the Howard N. Lee Papers in the Southern Historical Collection. These include recordings of speeches from Lee’s political campaigns for mayor of Chapel Hill and lieutenant governor of North Carolina; several political and community organizing events throughout the 1970s; campaign radio advertisements; family interviews; and even songs Lee performed with the Len Mack Trio while stationed with the United States Army in South Korea from 1959-1961.

Howard Lee is sworn into office as mayor of Chapel Hill, 1969
A mayoral portrait of Howard Lee from the 1970s

This week, as we commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we invite you to listen to Howard Lee’s 1980 speech which celebrates King’s monumental contributions to the Civil Rights movement. Lee’s message remains relevant today. Positioned at the start of a new decade, Lee frames the 1980s as a period during which “conservatism will sweep across the land like we have not experienced for many years […] a conservatism which will say ‘Let’s maintain the status quo. Let’s not rock the boat’” (Audiocassette 46, side 1). These words hold significant weight amidst our own current sociopolitical climate, especially as we, too, enter a new decade forty years later.

Lee adds, “There seems to be an attitude of hopelessness, a willingness to throw up hands in despair, a willingness to become slaves to pessimism and doubt. [But] this system can be saved […] It can be built, not so much on the melting pot form of like a soup, but more in the form of a stew, where people can come together and maintain their identities” (Audiocassette 46, side 1).

Howard Lee delivers a speech, circa 1970s

Related to these poignant considerations are observations made in his analysis of “The Black Experience in Politics” just a few months later. Lee suggests the two broad groups — majority white and minority black — generally share different political priorities and attitudes. The responsibility of the black politician thereby becomes a “dual leadership” in the “constant struggle of trying to communicate with the black community without alienating both the black community and the white community” (Audiocassette 48, side 1). “Politics,” Lee says, “is a game of exchange” (Audiocassette 48, side 1). He laments, however, that regarding the vote, “if somebody has to be sacrificed, […] you sacrifice the minority” (Audiocassette 48, side 1).

But Lee’s words call us to action, to a movement steeped in King’s legacy of racial reconciliation. And he reminds us that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day “must be more than just a celebration. It must be a commitment […] a renewed commitment to justice, to freedom, to equality, and above all, to human rights for all people” (Audiocassette 46, side 1).

This vast collection of now accessible digital materials from Howard Lee’s collection is an excellent resource available to you via the online finding aid at https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05609/. The materials that are not accessible online are available for use in the Wilson Library reading room. We are grateful for the generous support from our audiovisual preservation team for digitizing these materials. This work is a part of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded grant initiative, Extending the Reach of Southern Audiovisual Sources.

Vacationing Amidst the Weight of the Great Depression: The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair

We are pleased to announce the availability of a new collection: the Smith and Andrew Family Papers (#05800), a new collection documenting two white families from Rowland, N.C., Salem, Va., and other locations across the South between the late 1800s and the 1930s. Correspondence and other materials cover subjects such as the American Methodist Episcopal church, medical practices, and courtship during the early twentieth century.

Also of interest is the collection’s documentation of family travel—most notably a trip taken in the backdrop of the Depression’s darkest years. J. McNeill Smith Jr. (1918-2011) traveled with his mother, Roberta Olivia Andrew Smith (1894-1995), to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. The Fair’s motto of “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms” was purposefully optimistic in light of the ongoing economic challenges across the country.

J. McNeill Smith Jr.’s guidebook to the fair
A notecard describing the inspired purpose of the institution as it relates to the Technical Ascent of Man and its host of exhibits for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

Other trips documented in the collection include Minnie Smith’s (sister of J. McNeill Smith Sr.) trip to Europe in 1913, J. McNeill Smith Sr.’s and Roberta’s 1916 honeymoon in New York, and a 1921 trip to Cuba.

The collection finding aid is available online at https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05800/# and the materials are open for research in Wilson Library.

Items related to the Chicago World’s Fair can be found in boxes 11 (postcards), 13 (letters), 23 (guidebook), and 25 (travel and exhibit ephemera).

Vacationing Amidst the Weight of the Great Depression: The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair

We are pleased to announce the availability of a new collection: the Smith and Andrew Family Papers (#05800), a new collection documenting two white families from Rowland, N.C., Salem, Va., and other locations across the South between the late 1800s and the 1930s. Correspondence and other materials cover subjects such as the American Methodist Episcopal church, medical practices, and courtship during the early twentieth century.

Also of interest is the collection’s documentation of family travel—most notably a trip taken in the backdrop of the Depression’s darkest years. J. McNeill Smith Jr. (1918-2011) traveled with his mother, Roberta Olivia Andrew Smith (1894-1995), to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. The Fair’s motto of “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms” was purposefully optimistic in light of the ongoing economic challenges across the country.

J. McNeill Smith Jr.’s guidebook to the fair
A notecard describing the inspired purpose of the institution as it relates to the Technical Ascent of Man and its host of exhibits for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

Other trips documented in the collection include Minnie Smith’s (sister of J. McNeill Smith Sr.) trip to Europe in 1913, J. McNeill Smith Sr.’s and Roberta’s 1916 honeymoon in New York, and a 1921 trip to Cuba.

The collection finding aid is available online at https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05800/# and the materials are open for research in Wilson Library.

Items related to the Chicago World’s Fair can be found in boxes 11 (postcards), 13 (letters), 23 (guidebook), and 25 (travel and exhibit ephemera).

Working on the Railroad: A New Collection Offers a Glimpse into the Lives of Those Who Rode the Rails

The Southern Historical Collection preserves large holdings of manuscript materials related to labor and workers, trade unions, industrial relations, labor activism, and more. Known primarily for our collections documenting the piedmont textile industry in the 20th century, we have acquired several new collections that shed light on the lives of those who have labored in other industries – including black coalminers in eastern Kentucky, North Carolina hog farmers, and rural health practitioners in Tennessee.

A new collection, the Laurinburg & Southern Railroad Company Records (#5768), documents the long history of a unique short-line railroad that runs from Raeford to Laurinburg, N.C. The “L&S” collection is primarily an archive of the company’s business records (such as company correspondence, board minutes, financial and legal files, or records of track repair and maintenance) but it also reflects on the lives of those who worked for the company over the years.

The Laurinburg & Southern Railroad Company was incorporated in March 1909 by N.G. Wade, D.M. Flynn, J.F. McNair, J. Blue, A.L. James, and J.A. Jones. J.F. McNair served as its first president until his death in 1927. Over its history, the railroad was primarily used for hauling freight, but it has also offered passenger and mail service. L&S has included several subsidiaries, including the Red Springs & Northern Railroad, Robeson County Railroad, Fairmont & Western Railroad, Franklin County Railroad, Nash County Railroad, Yadkin Valley Railroad, and Saltville Railroad (in Virginia). The company operates a railroad car shop, a track maintenance crew for hire, and a large fleet of rail cars for leasing to other railroads. In 1994, L&S was sold to Gulf & Ohio Railways. Now in limited operation, these days L&S moves about 7,500 cars annually with three locomotives, focusing on shipments of feed, fertilizer, chemicals, and glass.

The L&S collection contains some wonderful images from its 100+ year history. We’d like to share a few, centering the lives of workers, with the hope that it will inspire you to check out the collection and learn more about life on the rails.

L&S railroad shop employees, circa 1891.
L&S employees and executives on a locomotive, circa 1940.
Track construction crew, April 1959.
Track maintenance crew, undated.
Railroad crew (on locomotive) and shop crew, 1980. Pictured: Johnnie Watts, Gene McLeod, Les Ingram, Jimmy Gibson, James Gautier, A.B. Chavis, Ronald Brigman, Simon Peay, John Campbell, Roosevelt McCoy, Alfred McCoy. Photo by Mac Connery.
L&S locomotive in the garage in Laurinburg, 1975.
L&S “hostesses,” 1966. Pictured are Scottie Warren of Macon, GA, and Kathy Cody of York, SC., both juniors at St. Andrews Presbyterian College.
Railroad crew led by engineer Juddie McNeil, 1980. Based on other documents in the collection we believe conductor John Rogers and brakeman Leon Butler round out this crew.
Accident report, 1976. A tractor trailer truck did not slow down at a railroad crossing and was struck by an L&S freight train, despite the crew putting the train “into emergency.”
Photographs from the accident report, 1976. The truck’s trailer was split in half by the oncoming train, scattering its load of mattresses and linens over a 200 square yard area. The driver was not injured.
Retirement ceremony for long-time shop mechanic John Campbell, January 28, 1981.
Retirement of shop mechanic John Campbell, 1981. In honor of his service to the company, L&S christened railroad car LRS-7225 “The John Campbell” and painted his name on the side of the car.
Employee manuals and timetables.
L&S delivery truck drivers, circa 1990.

[Post-script: We would like to recognize the work of our former colleague, Borden Thomas, in making the L&S collection a reality here in the Southern Historical Collection (SHC). Borden worked in our department from 2015-2017 as an undergraduate assistant. One day Borden mentioned that she was the descendant of founding L&S president J.F. McNair, and that her family still had a large archive of the company’s records. Borden took on the Herculean task of organizing and culling the records and then donated the collection to the SHC.]